Archive for July, 2012

SPC graduates walk past applauding faculty at the end of Saturday’s graduation ceremony, the college’s 119th Commencement Exercises.

Surrounded by families, friends and flashing phones and cameras, St. Petersburg College’s summer 2012 graduates filed out of the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks Saturday.

Approximately 300 SPC graduates participated in the college’s 119th Commencement Exercises. The college had more than 1,200 graduates this semester, according to SPC graduation organizers. Many received associate of arts degrees while others earned bachelor’s degrees in areas ranging from international business to nursing. About 2,000 people – among them proud parents, friends, siblings and children – attended the event along with SPC faculty and staff.

SPC President Bill Law congratulated the students and their families on their achievements both during the ceremony and in a letter printed in the graduation program. “You’ve invested much in your education; now, take pride in the contributions you will make to your professions, families and communities,” Law said in the letter.

Commencement speakers Deniann Grant and Juan Otazu

Graduates heard words of advice and encouragement from two commencement speakers. Deniann Grant, who will be transferring to the University of Florida, served as the former president of the St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus’s Student Government Association in 2011-12 and the Chief Executive Officer for the transitional team of MYRA (Make Your Radio Active) Radio Network. Juan Otazu, a retired master sergeant who served in the U.S Air Force for 24 years, graduated this semester from SPC with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

“Here at SPC there’s a place for everyone,” Grant told the crowd, explaining how the college offers an affordable education for thousands of students from a variety of backgrounds. Attending SPC, she said, allowed her to grow as a person and a leader.

“It’s passion not a pedigree that will win in the end,” Otazu said in his speech. Speaking about his own experiences to earn his degree, he had the audience laughing and clapping as he told them not to be afraid to start from the bottom and to persevere as they moved forward in life.

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St. Petersburg College’s plans to house the college’s Midtown Education Center in a building at 22nd Street and 13 Avenue S were featured in a Tampa Bay Times article about hope for renewal in St. Petersburg’s Midtown area.

The college is establishing a 45,000-square-foot building for the center, the article stated.

SPC’s plan is one of two “high-profile positive indicators” of  a rebirth of the area, said City Council member Karl Nurse in the report. The Harlem, N.Y.-based restaurant Sylvia’s Queen of Soul Food also is likely coming to Midtown, the article stated.

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St. Petersburg College President Bill Law was quoted in an article on news-press.com about a plan from Florida’s 28 state and community colleges to make the state the first in the country to reach the national goal of doubling graduation rates by 2020.

To reach that goal, the Florida College System will be asking for a 35 percent increase in state funding, according to the article. A proposal for the plan is expected in the fall, Valencia College President Sandy Shugart told the Florida Board of Education on Tuesday.

Law and Shugart said they thought Gov. Rick Scott would approve since their plan stemmed from discussions with him.

The four-year strategic plan would make Florida the top-ranked college system for affordability, job placement, accountability and partnerships with high schools and universities, the article stated.

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Terry Byrd

Terry Byrd was named Board Member Emeritus by the Clearwater Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, who treated him to a surprise farewell luncheon on July 13 to thank him for his years of service.

Byrd, who serves as Program Director – In Service for the Southeastern Public Safety Institute at the Allstate Center, had been reappointed as Vice Chair of the CHA board every four years since 1995. He originally was appointed by Rita Garvey, former mayor of Clearwater, with the approval of St. Petersburg Junior College.

During his time on the board, he played a role in many of the organization’s accomplishments, some of which include:

  • Assisting in the sale of CHA’s central office to the city of Largo to assist in a pond-park project
  • purchasing and renovating a new central office site with additional room for development
  • Creating the Economies of Scale program to work with other housing agencies in the county
  • Establishing a Financial Management and Compliance Center
  • Making all of CHA’s records digitalized
  • Administering a $10 million Shelter Plus Care program from Housing and Urban Development, which provides transitional housing and supportive services

Byrd, who joined SPJC in 1991, also attended the college and played on the baseketball team from 1967-69.

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The college’s 119th Commencement Exercises take place Saturday, July 21, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, 12685 Ulmerton Road, Largo.
Deniann Grant
Deniann Grant

Deniann Grant has pushed herself to achieve as a way to honor the sacrifice her parents made for her education.

When she was 11, her parents moved from Antigua and Barbuda so that Grant and her three siblings would have the opportunity to go to college.

“One of my big motivators is definitely remembering the sacrifices that my parents made to move us to America,” said Grant, 18, who concentrated on English courses at the St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus. “You think about the things your parents give up—even their retirement funds—to move to a completely different country to start over so that their children can have the opportunities that I’ve had here at SPC. I want to honor that.”

Grant, who receives her Associate in Arts degree, has been chosen as the lower division student speaker for commencement Saturday.

At 16, she graduated from the Criminal Justice Academy at Pinellas Park High School and began taking classes at SPC as a full-time student in fall 2010. Selected as a Johnnie Ruth Clarke scholar, she has been to attend the college tuition-free and has maintained a 3.9 GPA.

In her two years here, Grant served as president of the St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus’s Student Government Association in 2011-12 and Chief Executive Officer for the transitional team of MYRA (Make Your Radio Active) Radio Network, the project of the college’s new internet Radio Production Club. As SGA president, she oversaw the funding of the club’s equipment.

“She is the CEO of the club, which we’ve structured like a business,” said Mark Matthews, Lead Instructor of the Music Industry/Recording Arts program who serves as club advisor. When Grant stepped down from her role as SGA president, he recruited her to lead the student radio station because of how well she understood the process of running a club and how it should be organized.

“She’s been incredible,” Matthews said. “She’s responsible for doing the club bylaws and constitutions; she’s been interfacing with the SPC legal department. We have weekly meetings with all the staff of the radio station, and she’s been very efficient and organized.”

“Deniann Grant has helped to define the way faculty, students and staff view student leaders, not only here at St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus but collegewide,” said Tyrone Clinton, Associate Provost at the St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus. “As president of the Student Government Association, she set high standards for those who will follow in her footsteps. She also has shown her classmates that with dedication and hard work your goals are attainable.”

Grant will transfer to the University of Florida in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in English. After graduation, she plans to attend law school and to later return to SPC to serve as a mentor to students.

“I want to continue in my education to not only give back to my family by setting a good example for my younger brothers and cousins, but also to give back to the community as well,” Grant said. “It’s about spreading knowledge and letting everyone know that it’s possible to do the same things that I’ve done at 16 or 18, that anything you want, you can get as long as you are willing to work for it.”

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83degreesmedia.com featured St. Petersburg College’s SAM or Science-Art-Math Camps, specialty summer camps for grades 3-7, in a July 17 article. The camps are part of SPC’s College for Kids program. “The camps are designed to open the eyes of kids that science and math are everywhere,” said Cecilia O’Dowd, coordinator of lifelong learning and the College for Kids program. The article describes the variety of SAM Camp activities, from designing indoor roller coasters to the math behind the baking of cookies.

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Juan Otazu, taken in July 2010 while serving in Continuing Promise, a joint armed forces and multinational humanitarian mission to Latin America and the Caribbean.

St. Petersburg College student Juan Otazu sums up the past decade of his life with three words – passion, persistence and possibilities.

More than 10 years ago, Otazu, 51, started on his path to obtaining a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Those three words describe how, despite a variety of responsibilities and detours including military deployment to Central and South America, he finally finds himself days away from receiving his long-awaited diploma.

Those “three Ps” will be part of the message Otazu plans to share with fellow graduates and others at SPC’s upcoming graduation ceremony. He will be a commencement speaker at the July 21 event.

“You have to believe in yourself and anything is possible,” said Otazu. “If you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you have to imagine the light.”

“I had to, while on active duty, fit in part-time jobs and education and my active duty commitment,” Otazu said.

Otazu served in the U.S Air Force for 24 years before retiring in 2011 as a master sergeant. Most recently he was deployed for about six months as part of Continuing Promise, a joint armed forces and multinational humanitarian mission to Latin America and the Caribbean. The mission provided medical, dental, veterinary and engineering assistance to several nations, according to military news reports. The deployment fell in the middle of his latest efforts to continue his education in the medical field, delaying his upcoming graduation by more than a year.

Taken during Continuing Promise underway in the Caribbean in 2010.

Otazu began his work toward  a medical degree when he first enrolled at SPC about 11 years ago. But he wasn’t able to continue because the class schedule conflicted with his work on active duty at MacDill Air Force Base. Eventually he was able to attend classes at other institutions to become a licensed practical nurse. By the fall of 2009, he was back at SPC and working toward his bachelor’s degree in nursing. However, the following year he learned he would be deployed to Central and South America in countries including Haiti and Colombia.

Once he returned, Otazu picked up his studies and continued to plug away at his course work. In class, he’s been described as an “informal leader” on projects. Even when he’s been busy juggling work, family and school, Otazu said he always tries to make attending classes enjoyable as part of his commitment to getting his degree.

Although his career in the military held up his progress in school, Otazu also credited his time in the service for helping prepare him for the next phase of his life. Much of his work in the military involved medical-related duties, such as serving as a dental clinic superintendent where he  managed enlisted and civilian staff at MacDill.

Beyond medical experience, Otazu said the military prepared him for a variety of challenges that face people in the workforce, from managing other people and conflict resolution to public speaking. “All of that, it will definitely carry over into your next career once you retire or decide to go into the civilian world,” he said.

Otazu now will become the first person in his family to graduate from college. His younger sister, he said, often asks him how he did it. He hopes his commitment to his school work and career goals help encourage others both older and younger to follow their own dreams. And, once they do that, get a plan and be ready to adjust to cope to whatever surprises come your way.

“I would say you have to create a vision and dream of that vision,” he said.

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